A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, 1956
The magic trick:
Presenting the bulk of the story as a self-enclosed world untouched by time before highlighting the heartbreakingly temporary nature of the rituals
This is a classic for several reasons. The key trick Capote manages, as far as I can tell, is pulling the rug out from under the readers a little bit at the end. The story is so warm and content and self-enclosed as the narrator details the many little Christmas traditions he shared with his cousin and friend. Suddenly, near the end of the story, Capote pulls back the lens and we see the Christmas memory with more context. These rituals didn’t last forever, and loneliness and sadness often took their place in the years that followed. By placing the memory within a larger biography what might have been a simple, funny and heartwarming reminiscence takes on a greater meaning. And that’s quite a trick on Capote’s part.
“My, how foolish I am!” my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’11 wager it never happens. I’11 wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are”—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone—”just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”